As a parent, you send your child to school with the reasonable expectation that she would be safe. You expect that the school authorities, teachers and administrators, would do whatever is necessary within the ambit of applicable rules, regulation and laws to ensure that your child is educated in a safe environment. But, lo and behold, your child suffers a grave bodily injury, allegedly, due to the apparent neglect of the said authorities. What do you do? What are your options?
A few weeks ago, a local newspaper reported that a young female student lost sight in on of her eyes after a “one sided” with a male student. This incident is alleged to have occurred in the classroom. It is said that the young lady was struck repeatedly in the right eye, resulting in a complete loss of sight. Subsequent reports revealed that the alleged perpetrator of this heinous act was arrested and charged by the police. Up to the point of writing this, he was on bail and awaiting trial.
This incident, horrible as it is, raises a number of questions in my mind. Apart from the obvious culpability of the offending student and ultimately his parents, what of the school, the teachers, the principal and the authorities? Should they not be held liable for dereliction of duties? What was the school’s role in preventing such an incident from occurring? Can the authorities and all those responsible be sued? What if it were your child, how would you have responded?
In light of the facts as reported in the press, I would like to make a few general observations. A few of our secondary schools are staffed by some delinquent teachers and weak administrators. They often combine to engender a school climate in which declining discipline and disorder become rampant. It is in such a climate that children are allowed to engage in rowdy and violent acts such as the one in question. When grave injury is the suffered by a student, should we not hold teachers and administrators culpable?
If a school cannot instill discipline, what is the point?
I am veteran teacher in the secondary school system. I have given over thirty years of service to our nation’s children. Ever so often though, I have to protest loudly against the mess that we allow to persist. I write today about the growing prevalence of indiscipline and the apparent enthronement thereof.
The appalling conduct of of many students manifest itself in several ways. Among these are:
- chronic late coming;
- unexcused absences;
- refusal to bring required material to class;
- absconding from classes;
- engaging in violent behaviour;
- wanton acts of vandalism;
- disrespect for each other and those in authority;
- open defiance;
- lewd and despicable behaviour.
Sometimes the situation is so terrible that one gets the distinct impression that students “run things”. Furthermore, the despicable conduct is often supported by parents and even the wider community.
Efforts to effectively address the problems associated with indiscipline are often met with resistance, particularly from misguided parents. At times, the response from the competent authorities can at best be describe as apathetic. They often appear unwilling to or incapable of confronting these issues head on. Hence, principals and teachers are all but helpless in the midst of this growing culture of indiscipline in our schools. But, if a school cannot instill discipline, what is the point?
To be sure, there are many decent students who show up. They are regular and punctual; they complete all assigned tasks in pursuit of their education; and above all, they conduct themselves in an appropriate manner at all times. However, our frustration comes from those who are bent on doing the exact opposite. Indeed, they are the ones in charge!
Is it any wonder then, that across the nation that academic performance is barely mediocre? Should we be surprised at the unacceptable rates of class repetition; dropouts and the high levels of failure on tests of basic competencies in literacy and numeracy?
Left as it is, the problem of indiscipline in schools tend to translate into scores of youths, mainly males, who offend the legal system on a regular basis. Indeed, there could well be a direct link between the decline in discipline and what appears to be a growing crime wave, particularly among the youths.
This is a simple plea for us to arrest the problem before it gets further out of control. The schools, the authorities, the parents and and the wider community must get together and carefully examine the situation. We should then collaboratively craft strategies that are designed to stem the decline in discipline and decorum among our young people.
On Friday November 14, 2014 the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union staged its annual solidarity march and rally. From all reports, the gathering of teachers appeared to be bigger than it was in a few years. In fact, several of the teachers who showed up were doing so for the very first time.
Some persons have openly expressed surprise at the growing number of teachers who chose to actively participate in the events this year. Then, there was the big question: Why are teachers still marching? Some have asserted that the teachers of this country never had it so good. That may be so. But, does it also mean that conditions can not or must not be improved?
Traditionally, teachers have worked under generally difficult conditions. Low salaries; meagre benefits; and deplorable working environments have generally marked the lot of teachers in this country. To be sure, there have been improvements over the years. However, the gains made did not come without struggle. Indeed, the protracted teachers’ strike of 1975 that led to the brutal reprisals from the authorities in the form of the arrests, trials, and dismissals of a number of teachers is still commemorated as a significant point in this never ending struggle.
After nearly forty years, there are still issues to be resolved. Even if we agree that “teachers never had it so good”, we must also accept that there is nothing for which we must continue to struggle?
Consider the following:
- the current unilaterally imposed salary freeze
- the failure to engage the SVGTU in discussion and consultation on issues touching on terms and conditions of service
- the violation of the collective agreement with regard to the Article 16, Election Leave
- the failure to honour the said article leading to the forced resignation of three teachers who ran for office;
- the plight of brother Otto Sam and what his situation may mean for other teachers who may wish to add their voices to contentious national issues;
- the failure to appoint and promote some teachers in accordance with the rules of the civil service and traditional practices; and
- the general malaise afflicting trade unions stemming from efforts to smother them.
The teachers of this country must continue to march. As conditions continue to improve we should march in celebration. To the extent that policies and practices persist that adversely affect the teaching profession we should march in protest!
Long live the SVGTU!